Own Your Mess

Someone I greatly admire once said, “We live in a society where we only claim responsibility for the good. We blame others for the bad instead of taking responsibility. Don’t let pride win. Be willing to take responsibility.

Taking responsibility means a lot to customers and clients. It shows that you truly care about customer service — which is critical.

In the public relations universe, owning responsibility takes an immensely important role in crisis management. Last year, coffee giant Starbucks experienced their own self-inflicted crisis/mess. The incident sparked outrage throughout the country. If you have not heard about it, you can read about it here.

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson, did what we as PR professionals recommend, he took the blame head on. He accepted responsibility and did not try to isolate it to a single store or employee, although disciplinary measures were taken where needed. In a public statement he shared,

“I’m writing this evening to convey three things: First, to once again express our deepest apologies to the two men who were arrested with a goal of doing whatever we can to make things right. Second, to let you know of our plans to investigate the pertinent facts and make any necessary changes to our practices that would help prevent such an occurrence from ever happening again. And third, to reassure you that Starbucks stands firmly against discrimination or racial profiling.”

Starbucks took the statement a step further by taking action and closing all stores for a 4-hour training regarding anti-biased business practices and raising the bar for expectations. This turned what could have been a PR nightmare into a positive message for the company.

Unfortunately, the Starbucks example is often the opposite of the more common reaction: to shift blame downstream or deny responsibility entirely. When you do this the problem often continues to spin out of control. Wells Fargo is a prime example of this. The bank took months to take responsibility for negative actions and it may have permanently tarnished their reputation.

It is often difficult to see the best way to respond to a difficult situation. Accepting responsibility is hard. BUT, if you own the problem and invite help in turning a negative into a positive, customers will see your authenticity. Actions truly do speak louder than words. At times, it is hard to see the correct path to take, but if you own the responsibility, you have taken the first – and hardest – step. If your company needs help navigating your crisis response plan or are currently experiencing a crisis and need help, please let’s chat, I’d be happy to help guide you on a path to a positive solution.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

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Anna Patty

Anna is a Fundraising Consultant, Graphic/Web Designer, Marketing Strategist, Media Relations Professional and Event Planner. Anna holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Iowa with degrees in Journalism and Spanish and has spent over a decade creating strategic and cost-effective strategies for organizations looking to grow their missions. She and her husband, Sean, have four very energetic kids, two boys and two girls.

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